Annika is looking for her sister, after her own mistake caused her to be wrongly banished from her home. She left her insular, hidden community of Hannasvik to search the entire world for her, if she has to, carefully keeping knowledge of her origin secret. She knows that Hannasvik would not do well if exposed to the prejudices of the outside world.
David is part of a science and exploration expedition to Iceland when he runs into Annika – and hears the accents of his dead mother. After so many years, he now has the chance to fulfil his mother’s dying wish – but Annika is very closed mouthed about her origin, and suspicious of his questions.
But even as they struggle over Annika’s secrets, a greater threat arises – there are powerful men with dangerous plans on the island and more than Hannasvik may be at risk.
The romance in this book is generally one I enjoy and reflects many of the positive points I’ve found in several books in the series. Annika is attracted to David, she likes him, she’s intrigued by him – but is stopped from getting close because of dual concerns – the need to maintain secrecy about her origins and she has an ongoing task to find her sister. This is exacerbated by David actually having an ulterior motive to get to know Annika which she can certainly sense and is duly wary about. She has priorities which, to her, take precedence over romance even if she does care for David, find him attractive or even like him. This is something I really appreciate in a romance – the characters maintaining other priorities than romance and those priorities not being utterly destroyed because there’s a chance of some really hot nookie. I find a lot of romance characters can come across as either deeply self-absorbed or grossly lacking in priorities simply because the romance consumes everything else in their lives, regardless of responsibilities
This also creates a reasonable conflict. I’ve complained a lot about romances that have convoluted conflicts based on dubious misunderstandings, assumptions or rather dubious mis-overheard conversations (or believe that one or other party is dangerous/cursed/hunted by angry vampire bonobos. There’s also of dubious conflict in romance) – but this book works because the conflict is reasonable and makes sense. Annika does have other priorities, she does have people to protect, equally David has commitments and a life to lead. All of this doesn’t disappear because romance is in the offing.
There’s also the story which is pretty excellent. The conniving of the bad guys, the risk to Anna’s home, how David is drawn in all work to create a twisty, interesting, well paced and very fun plot. The story has a lot of character agency, a lot of the characters being awesome without being ridiculously powerful and it holds together with excellent consistence, not needing leaps of logic or random chance or sheer bizarre luck to hold any element together. It works, it draws me in and is one of those that makes me want to keep reading no matter what’s happening around me.
In turn the romance works so well with the story – it’s tangential to it, it doesn’t draw from it, it doesn’t try to overwhelm the story. David and Annika form a romantic connection while still firmly focused on the actual plot and what is vital at that moment.
It’s also a plot that continues to link to the rest of the Iron Seas series which I like – even though we have a completely different cast of characters to the other books I’ve read in the series, the world is always very present in all the books, the story is directly impacted by this extremely unique and fascinating world to make the whole series feel much more like a whole even without direct connections. This is not a plot that could exist in any other setting because the world Meljean Brook has created permeates the whole series.
The only thing that can match the excellent world building is the excellent characterisation. The characters have history and depth and nuance, they’re not perfect, they do things wrong – and people who like them aren’t all good guys and people they disagree with aren’t all bad guys. They’re nuanced, developed, have their own motives and hobbies and lives – they’re excellent characters.
The diversity of this book is excellent. The protagonist, Annika is a Black woman and her love interest/co-protagonist David is Native American and disabled. Annika is also brought up in a completely different culture from those around her so frequently challenges so many of the assumptions and conventions of “manners” people have. Some of these are basic cultural examination – like the idea that someone’s place of origin is so essential to know, or that she finds delving into someone’s past when they are clearly unwilling to divulge invasive and unacceptable. While at the same time she is open and honest about attraction and relationships that others find taboo which is a nice twist. But she also relates this to her race and sexuality – everyone sees a Black woman and assumes she’s from a certain place (the Liberé territory in this world) even though she points out that their own cities have considerable Black populations – she challenges and mocks the ridiculous assumption, no-one should reasonably have. She also repeatedly, due to her originals, challenges and questions the misogyny of the world, causing David to re-examine several things he generally assumes as basic reality.